YouGov survey reveals widespread ‘confusion and myths’ about rape

14 December, 2018


A survey by YouGov, on behalf of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, has revealed substantial public confusion over the definition of rape and the support available to rape victims.

The survey questioned 4,000 people in Britain and found that:

  • 33% of people believe a woman pressured into having sex, without her partner being physically violent, wouldn’t equate to rape.
  • One in 10 people aren’t sure if having sex with a woman who was very drunk or asleep would count as rape.
  • 60% of people think rape victims can access free counselling services.

This confusion over non-consensual sex is particularly alarming, given the scale of media coverage of the #MeToo movement which saw victims of sexual violence speak out and many perpetrators face legal proceedings.

Meanwhile, the assumption that free counselling is available for rape victims causes concern; free counselling isn’t widely available, and long waiting lists mean delayed support for those in need.

Survey responses from men suggested a gender gap in the understanding of consent and the law:

  • 33% of men, and 21% of women, didn’t think it would necessarily count as rape if a woman had flirted with them on a date but later changed her mind about having sex.
  • 24% of men don’t think non-consensual sex in a long-term relationship would usually be considered rape.

These findings indicate that men would benefit the most from education and media campaigns on explicit consent and the legal definitions of rape and sexual assault.

The survey also revealed a generational divide, with over-65s less likely to class non-consensual sex as rape:

  • 35% of over-65s, and 16% of those aged 16-24, believe having non-consensual sex with your wife or partner isn’t rape.
  • 42% of over-65s, and 22% of those aged 25-49, think it isn’t rape if a woman withdraws consent during sex but her partner continues.

The divide between older and younger generations suggests definitions of consent are better understood by young people than their parents or grandparents, and that older victims of rape may be less likely to come forward, having assumed what happened to them was not a crime. For context, marital rape did not become a criminal offence until 1991.

The End Violence Against Women Coalition highlighted that the generational divide may damage the outcome of rape trials if jurors have more outdated views on definitions of rape. The report states: ‘many of the cases being reported to the police are younger women who have a clear view of consent, which may not be shared by many of the people who make up juries’.

How Bristol can support victims

  • The Sexual Violence Support Consortium (Barnardo’s, SARSAS, The Green House and Womankind Therapy Centre) aims to develop and strengthen local support for sexual violence survivors, and be a model for similar services around the country. Its Sexual Violence Needs Assessment for Avon and Somerset, published in April 2018, highlighted the biggest areas for improvement in current victim services.  

  • There are many voluntary, charity and community groups working tirelessly in Bristol to support victims and their loved ones in practical and therapeutic ways. For example, Voscur members The Southmead Project work with adult victims of childhood trauma, including sexual abuse, whilst Avon Counselling and Psychotherapy may be appropriate for those seeking talking therapy; reduced fees are sometimes available for people on low incomes.

  • If you or someone you know may have been the victim of rape or sexual assault, please get in touch with one of the organisations listed above, or contact The Bridge, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre which provides 24/7 access to services after rape and sexual assault in Bristol, Bath, Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

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